Okay, okay, I’ve given into the pressure. I’ve copped a bit of flak from Brisbane supporters over the last couple of weeks for not covering their games. I actually watched the win over Hawthorn last week but ran out of time to write about it.

Well, your nagging and jibes have paid off. This morning I fired up the old IQ3 and sat down to divide my attention between my misbehaving daughter, and a very entertaining game of footy between the Lions and Dees.

A lot has been written about the Lions already this year, and how they’re destined to rise up the ladder. Is it warranted? Based on what I’ve seen in the two JLT games (such a small sample size to make any kind of sweeping assessment), the parts are all there – it’s just how they perform under the pressure of an actual AFL game, and not a practice game that remains to be seen.

Both teams had some really impressive passages of play, and looked like world-beaters at times, but fumbles and miskicks brought what should’ve been impressive forward thrusts undone… much like Joe Ganino’s love life.

Let’s get into the nitty gritty of it – the game, I mean.

What a difference it makes to the ruck influence of Max Gawn when you throw Stef Martin in against him. The Lions started with Archie Smith in the middle, and quickly learned that he still has a very long way to go against one of the top big guys in the game. Gawn was really on for the first ten minutes, and dominated ruck proceedings. Smith will do fine as a second ruck, but when he is matched up against Gawn, Grundy, and I’ll throw Todd Goldstein in there, he’ll be found out.

Gawn finished with three direct goal assists, which is testament to the skill he possesses for a big man, and had more hit outs than the entire Brisbane team, but Martin’s strength is his endurance, and he came into the game significantly in the third quarter. He finished with 23 touches and six clearances to match Gawn’s output around the ground.

While most would say Gawn’s biggest strength is his ruck dominance, which it is, don’t discount his second efforts. He makes the big spoils and throws his body into contests just to bring the ball to ground. The Dees are a different team without Gawn, and though they’ll play Kielty and Preuss as backups at times, the more game time Gawn spends in the ruck, the greater their chances of winning are.

Martin was great around the ground, and even opted to ignore the running Daniel Rich to hit an issue 50 target in the second quarter. These big blokes… someone should step in and tell them they’re not supposed to be skilled. 

I really liked the efforts of Rhys Mathieson in this game. His second efforts and willingness to chase and tackle are vital elements that will often be overlooked when reviewing a game. It was his direct pressure at half forward that created a goal for Charlie Cameron in the second quarter – one of the few times he got away from Neville Jetta.

Mathieson adds a bit of mongrel to the Lions outfit. Don’t discount what he brings to the table, even if every time I see him I imagine him actually being Mac from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia in a Lions guernsey.

Hats off to Jarrod Lyons for his performance. 26 touches, four goals and six clearances indicates that he has his head screwed on right at this stage. Let’s reserve our judgment on him until the real stuff starts, though. Don’t forget, he wanted out of Adelaide and then was dropped by the Suns. Given that, I have concerns about his attitude, but this has been an auspicious start to his Lions tenure.

I think I’ll check in with how Lyons is travelling at about Round 10. That’s long enough for the gloss of this new relationship to start tarnishing, and if there are going to be any issues, I’d expect them to start surfacing around then.

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Grab a Mongrel Bumper Sticker – click the image, grab a sticker and help spread the Mongrel word. We’d really appreciate it.

Luke Hodge – if this bloke is going to back into packs and get crunched, there is NO excuse for every player on not to do the same. That, my friends, is leadership. You want to know what he brings to the table? It’s not those 55 metre diagonal kicks from defensive that open the ground right up – they’re great – it’s the “do as I do” example he sets.

Do you think a few of the Lions waked a bit taller once they saw Hodgey get punished, and get back up? I would.

Is this the year Christian Petracca breaks out? It kind of has to be. The Dees made the leap last year, but Petracca didn’t quite make it with them. He looks like an absolute bull – bigger and stronger than last year, and he looks determined. I expect a lot from him, and at times I can come across as critical – I’m aware of that. It’s just that when you see the oak tree in the acorn, it makes it hard watch him perform like a sapling.

What a great pick up Lincoln McCarthy is looking like at Brisbane. Unleashed as a high half forward, his pumped the ball inside 50 on nine occasions and laid a couple of ripping tackles to keep the ball in the Lions’ forward half. Players like this add a dimension to a team – not a pure defensive forward by any stretch, but one who can tighten the reins on his opponent and give the other forwards second and third chances to score.

I think we found the range we want Daniel McStay kicking from. Him leading up to 50-55 metres out not only puts him in goal kicking range, but also opens up a ton of space behind him.

Eric Hipwood started really well, and the clunking contested mark he took in the second quarter has been the one facet missing from his game. His efforts to keep the ball alive at half forward, in a one on four situation in the first quarter spoke volumes about his endeavour and that of his teammates. I hope they all got around him for that effort – it was wonderful.

I know this is Brisbane-heavy at the moment. Apologies Dees fans.

Clayton Oliver had a very Oliver-esque game, but I don’t think he had anywhere near the impact of the previous JLT game against Richmond. Maybe I am just being picky? 32 touches, seven clearances and seven inside 50s is a nice return from anyone. I just think I may have become accustomed to him producing games like that, much in the same way you expect it from Patrick Cripps these days.

Joel Smith has obviously put his hand up for a Round One berth, with four goals, and the last of them coming on one-leg. More than just the goals, he really worked hard to keep the ball in the forward half for the Dees.

He had a five minute patch in the second quarter that was absolutely spectacular. Repeated efforts on the wing saw him solely responsible for Melbourne getting a repeat inside 50, and not only was he then applying tackles in the forward pocket, he was breaking up other Brisbane defensive exits to set up a goal for Angus Brayshaw.

Speaking of Brayshaw, has he made the leap into the elite bracket of midfielders? Third in the Brownlow without an invite, and his two games this pre-season have both been of an excellent standard. He had eleven tackles today; second only to teammate Aaron Vandenberg.

I like vandenBerg – not the most polished guy on the park, but you know you’re going to get a good contest from him every time.

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Look! Mongrel Punt Stubby Holders. Buy one and be cooler than all your friends! It also helps the site out.

The Steven May hit on Jarrod Berry? Not much in it. May could’ve really hurt Berry had he wanted to and just seemed to let him know he was there. If he gets a suspension for that, I’d be really surprised – it doesn’t deserve one.

Then again, just like my mate Joe Ganino, I’m a bit of a fan of the rough stuff.

Sam Weideman looks like he’s a lot more at home leading up to the wings. When inside forward 50 he doesn’t get a clear run at the ball, and he was more or less ineffective in the first half until Simon Goodwin gave him permission to roam a little wider.

It was really good to see Jay Kennedy-Harris up and walking around in the dressing room after what looked like a nasty leg injury. Of course, that was the time my missus decided to head into the Mongrel Cave and let me know that he looks like a bloke you’d see who always hangs around the pool. I don’t know what she’s thinking, sometimes…

I really like Zac Bailey being used off the half back flank. He looks like a good decision maker, and his success there may be the decisive factor in whether Alex Witherden is released into the midfield for bursts in 2019. He reads the play really well, and his kicking to position is excellent.

Finally, Harris Andrews – could he be the All-Australian full back this season? I had him in the running last year until Jeremy Cameron sat him out for weeks. He reads it so well, is fearless, and will definitely take one for the team. He is not this super-athletic powerhouse like Alex Rance, but he is range-y and gets to the right spot to make it very difficult to beat him. Would you have him as the heir apparent to Rance’s full back dominance?

For that to happen, I reckon the Lions need to make some real inroads this season, and live up to the rising expectations of the footy public. As the team improves around him, his defensive prowess will be better recognised.

The Lions have the Eagles in Round One, and it should be a belter. The pieces of the puzzle are all there – can they make them fit? I think they can… in patches. I’m not sure we’re going to see the team put together a full year of good games just yet. I think there’ll be weeks where they fall over pretty significantly, but as a whole, I expect a marked improvement on a 2018 that saw them win just five games.

For the Dees, their match up against the Power at the MCG will be very interesting. Ryder (if fit) and Lycett are a good test for how Gawn will go with a sub-par back-up ruck in support. They should win, especially at home, but this season will be so up and down… I reckon the AFL equalisation strategy is at the point right now that they wanted it to be. The difference between fourth and 12th may end up being minimal. Early games will be the key.


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